222 of 245 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2010
The term "must read" is admittedly overused and abused. Not so with this recommendation because this is a book that will advance the debate we are having as a country about who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going. Additionally, in the interest of complete disclosure - I am a huge fan of Chris Hedges' work - even though I do not agree all of the time with his points of view - his work is always well written, well researched, and very well presented. No difference here.
His fundamental premise is compelling and enlightening. He argues that the "real division in America today is not between Democrats and Republicans, but between average citizens and the corporate and financial elite...." If you are like me, you have been dismayed at the breakdown in our political rhetoric over the last 20 years; you have been depressed by the hostility and vitriol that marks the "debate" about politics; you despair at the prospect that the logical conclusion is that there is no "solution" at the end of the road. For my team to win this game - your side must lose. The old saying that "politics is the art of compromise" seems to have gone right out the window.
Although I have not finished the book I have read enough to understand what Hedges is doing and (I think) where he is going. His argument resonates with me because although I voted for Obama I am one of those who have been very disappointed with the gulf between what he promised and what he is doing. His campaign rhetoric energized me (and perhaps millions of others) with the promise that "change" was coming but he lied - giving proof to the sad truth that there is not really a "dimes worth of difference" between the political parties.
Hedges gives us an answer to why this is happening. Our leaders our serving their masters - the problem is that those masters are not the people of this country - they are the corporate interests who now are the ones who get what they need and want from the government. When Hedges writes about the economic collapse and the ensuing "relief" bestowed on wall st. and various corporations while people get slammed I am outraged - again. His "promise" that wall st. bail-outs and reform would unlock lending to kick start the economic engine that is the American people - he flat out lied. The bail-out happened. The lending did not. Obama does not seem to care about it. The Dems don't care about it. The R's don't care about it. And Americans are increasingly and justifiably outraged at the abuse.
You can imagine that the rage behind the tea-party is really only the beginning of what is to come as a result of our discovery that "the emperor has no clothes." The R's are naive to believe that the tea-party is a good thing for them. As Hedges eloquently observes - this is not about D's and R's. It is about something much more fundamental.
Read this book. Learn this perspective. You will be a better citizen for the effort. Ultimately we will be a better country as a result.
142 of 157 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2010
I have read most of Hedges' books, and he is easily my favorite political/cultural writer. But this book is also his darkest to date. I've given it five stars, mostly because I still believe that what Hedges has to say is worth reading, now more than ever.
That said, the book comes off rather as a hissy fit against the now-impotent liberal class which, in Hedges' opinion, has utterly failed to live up to its moral principles. And he's right. Since the world's ruling uber-class is interested only in acquiring more and more wealth and power, Hedges believes that all we have to look forward to at this point in human history is eventual economic and environmental devastation. To allay the inevitable sense of utter hopelessness, however, Hedges leaves us one redeeming moral act: civil disobedience and resistance. While admitting that this path will almost certainly lead to self-destruction of those who choose it, Hedges implies that it would at least give us the satisfaction that we will have done our moral duty. Shades of Immanuel Kant, indeed.
Chris Hedges, who left seminary and social work to become a war correspondent and political writer, is a truly moral and compassionate man, perhaps the only one of his kind left on the political scene. My advice, however, is that you read the last chapter of this book first, "Rebellion." If you can stomach that without feeling totally hopeless, then go back and read the rest of the book to see why Hedges has come to the worldview that he now feels compelled to unveil to us. It's pretty bleak, and I can only wonder if this will be his last book, as I cannot for the life of me think of what else he has left to say about the probable fate of our world.
67 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2011
Chris Hedges is a regular contributor to the Truth Dig blog and I have always enjoyed his commentaries, so I just finished reading Death of the Liberal Class. As a progressive/liberal I found this book to be very depressing, because Hedges makes us confront the obvious: the corporatists have won. Our real enemies are no longer Fox News or any other conservative outlet. The enemy is ourselves or to be more correct, what passes for liberal leadership in the United States. Basically the liberal class has sold out. They no longer represent the downtrodden. They represent the elite viewpoints of those who have progressive values but who could care less about helping others to the degree that was done in the 1930's. Liberals today identify as much with the wealthy as do the conservatives. At least that is what Chris Hedges thinks and he has built a strong case in his book. He doesn't think very highly of Bill Clinton who identified very heavily with corporate interests. Barack Obama is preoccupied with his own power and prestige. When the President was asked who he admired in the business world he cited Fred Smith the CEO of FedEx who was a notorious union buster and a key contributor to the Republican party. Your could argue with the pessimissm of Mr. Hedges but you would have a hard time marshalling the facts to counteract his assertions. Because if we take an honest look at the progressive movement in this country, it has been going down hill for at least the last three decades. And Mr. Hedges claims it is only going to get worse as we ignore the dangers of climate change and as the gap between haves and have not's widens. We are in for more wars as the rich try to protect their gains and getting the lower classes to fight their wars for them. Hedges seems to think at some point we will need to man the ramparts to fight against the corporate tyranny or we will die a slow death anyway. The belief that science will come to our rescue and save us from climate change will be our ultimate undoing. As it dawns on the corporatists that there is nothing left to grab off to add to their bank accounts they will hit the panic button and try to save themselves. It has the potential to be a very gloomy future and there will be none of the traditional progressive institutions to come to our rescue. This is a very depressing book but worth reading.
38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2010
Here, one of my favorite authors, and commentators argues that in a traditional democracy, the liberal class serves as a safety value for slowly releasing the tensions that build up from the pressures of maintaining the status quo of the power elite. In point of fact, as he contends, it is liberals that actually give legitimacy to the power elite. However today, the relentless assault by the corporate state on the democratic values of our democracy has all but rendered our democratic process irrelevant: We have all become pawns and serfs in a game of pseudo democracy rigged by the corporate state: All thanks to weak kneed and limp-wristed liberals, who are the corporate class' most recent victim.
With their heads forever in the sand, liberals continue to live in the nether-nether world of passe democratic rhetoric and reveling in hollow acts of "democratic political theater." But more than this, all our political institutions are now being either overrun by, or co-opted by the dictates of the corporate and national security state. As but one example, today, we have begun to take globalization as an article of faith -- with only whimpering critiques. But more importantly, all values, liberal or otherwise, have begun to fall by the wayside when the time comes to stand up to mean-spirited, shallow and always greedy corporate dictates. Today it is the corporate narrative that has usurped religious, patriotic as well as moral messages, values and language. We now live in a Corporatocracy, and only the liberals stand between complete corporate rule and an awaking America to the living danger of a Fascist take over of the nation. And now the liberals have been completely co-opted.
Recent democrats, such as both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are rightly taken to task by the author. Bill Clinton is lambasted, for instance, for having consciously sold out the working class for corporate money: He passed NAFTA, and destroyed welfare, both of which, arguably, betrayed the working and poorer classes. And even more importantly, he along with the help of key conservative Republicans, ripped down the firewalls between commercial and investment banks. An act that effectively turned the banking system over to Wall Street speculators and led to the financial mess that the U.S. has today and from which it may never completely recover from.
Similarly, Barack Obama raised more than $600 million to run for president (the most ever raised in U.S. history by a single candidate running for a U.S. office), most of it from the very corporations engaged in the recent financial meltdown. Like the Cheney/Bush administration before him, Obama too has run interference for the continued looting of the U.S. Treasury by corporations. He has done this at the same time that he made a conscious calculation not to help the millions of Americans who have lost their homes because of bank repossessions or foreclosures. Not only has Obama failed to address the misery of our permanent class of unemployed, he has thumbed his nose at blacks too and especially those in the inner city underclass of his own tribe - the one group that just coincidentally voted for him at the rate of 93%. The only difference between a liberal and a conservative, is that a conservative has values worth fighting for.
In short, the author argues rather persuasively that the liberal class has become a useless and despised appendage of corporate power. I could not agree with him more. Easily five Stars
60 of 74 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2010
Hedges's basic thesis is solid enough: it's that those we think of as liberals have checked their advocacy at the door, in order to gain prosperity, credit, acclaim etc. And his examples of the phenomena are accurate.
But his survey of the history of better liberals goes on for far longer than it needs to (you get his point long before he's finished -- for example, long transcripts of theater productions). And after that he slips into redundancy, and tacked on screeds about other issues (a late section on global warming seems to come from nowhere; the discussion seems worthwhile, but its placement makes the book seem disorganized).
He supports the thesis with transcripts of interviews he's conducted - - and they all support his points. But each interview is treated separately, segregated from the others. IMHO it would have been better if the salient points of the interviews were re-collated around their relevant points. But this might not be possible, I haven't attempted it - - I did wish, however, that chapters including these interviews were simply retitled as something like "So and So Chimes In."
I have a lot of respect for the points Hedges has made here. The points are solid. But I think he'd have done better with re-arranging his outline before writing (or adhering to his outline?) And even with that, the core of his points don't deserve a full book treatment.
The immediacy of the need for a book containing his points argues against an anthology containing an assortment of discussions like this. In the 18th Century, they had these things called "pamphlets." Too bad that format is gone.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Chris Hedges book chronicles the history of the dying, killing, sabotaging, compromising and subverting of the liberal class.
He walks us through how liberals now serve their corporate masters, serve the power elite, how the institutional bastions of liberalism-- education, arts, religion, unions-- have all been coopted, bought and taken over so they now act to protect, defend and support the corporate power structure that has replaced democracy in the US, with inverted totalitarianism.
This IS, as other reviewers say, a dark book. But it forces us to face a painful reality and gives us a deep understanding of how it came to pass, how it works now. "IT" is the reality that idea of liberalism has been taken over by people who do not serve liberal values or causes or visions. Hedges writes, "The liberal class is used as a prop to keep the fiction of the Democratic state alive." and he writes, "But the America we celebrate is an illusion. It does not exist," and he argues that liberals, by embracing and entrusting their mission to government, which has been taken over by corporations, have become impotent.
It is easy to fall prey to the seductions of corporate predations upon liberals. Money and power and influence buy people like Thomas Friedman. This book is a guide to the toxic traps and soul destroying pathways that have killed so much of the robust, powerful liberal energy and spirit that existed 100 years ago, before the great wars were used as excuses to purge the nation of liberals and fighters for justice.
Hedges offers several answers to the problem-- not really full solutions-- but that's because he characterizes the true liberal effort as a process more than a destination. One solution is relocalization, the kind of thing that Rob Hopkins and his transition town movement are describing. The other solution is to engage in rebellion, which he differentiates from revolution. Rebellion is resistance without necessarily having any plan for anything which a revolution would seek to install as a replacement.. Hedges suggests, "Those who exploit human beings and nature are bound to an irrational lust for power and money that is leading to collective suicide." Rebellion slows the decline.
I say this is a wake up call because we on the left must face the fact that the Democratic party is no longer liberal, that the congress will not do what we need to do to make change happen. We must do it in new and different ways.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2011
This is a depressing book for it offers no hope. It chronicles the death of the liberal class - the sine qua non of a truly civilized democratic society. In a traditional democracy, says Hedges, the liberal class functions as a safety valve. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible. It offers hope for change and proposes gradual steps toward greater equality. It endows the state and the mechanisms of power with virtue.
The foundations for classical liberalism were laid by Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), John Locke (1632-1704), and Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). The work of these theorists was expanded in the eighteenth century by the Scottish moral philosophers, the French philosophes and the early architects of American democracy. The philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) redefined liberalism in the nineteenth century to call for the redistribution of wealth and the promotion of the welfare state.
According to Hedges, the liberal era , which flourished in the latter part of the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth, was characterized by the growth of mass movements and social reforms that addressed working conditions in factories, the organizing of labor unions, women's rights, universal education, housing for the poor, public health campaigns, and socialism. This era effectively ended with World War I. The New Deal was the final political gasp of classical liberalism.
Over the past three decades, ever since the Reagan administration, the liberal class has failed to protect the minimal interests of the working and middle class as corporations dismantled the democratic state, looted the U.S. Treasury, waged imperial wars that can neither be afforded nor won, and gutted the basic laws that protected the interests of ordinary citizens. The state has put the liberal class on a death march. Liberals did not protest the stripping away of the country's manufacturing base, the dismantling of regulatory agencies, and the destruction of social service programs.
Discontent and unrest are beginning to be fueled by the coup d'tat we have just experienced but the liberal class lacks the capacity or imagination to respond to this discontent. Because of this, revolt will come from the right as it did in other eras of bankrupt liberalism, in Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and tsarist Russia. One of the great and tragic ironies of history is that this revolt will be funded, organized, and manipulated by the corporate forces that caused the collapse. But the blame lies with the liberal class.
Hedges concludes on a most depressing note: "We stand on the verge of one of the bleakest periods in human history, when the bright lights of civilization will blink out and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity."
45 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2010
Chris Hedges was on NPR this month, arguing that liberalism has an extremely important role to play, AND that it is in its death throes. This position is the foundation of my own anger with my liberal associates who are too flighty to get involved, agitate, or move from their sofas, numbed as they are by their technological gadgets. The Hedges interview was the best thing I'd heard in years; and drove home the point that all current fronts deemed to be liberal (including NPR itself) are cowed, feeble ghosts of themselves: caught up in the inane distraction of giving equal time to bumpkin ideas that are idiotic on their face; in utterly misconceived pride over their all-hallowed 'moderation.'
I'll attempt to get a copy of this book in my hands within the month. Hedges speaks with absolute moral clarity about how the Left abandoned the high road, and abdicated all moral authority.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2011
In 'Death of the Liberal Class' Hedges has written one of the seminal books of the last ten years.
The large gap between the stark reality on the one hand versus the media contrived fantasy world on the other is becoming too blatant to ignore.
The falling wages, diminishing benefits, home foreclosures, unconscionable unemployment rates, and evisceration of the social safety net, all criteria that define the stark reality for working and middle class people, can no longer be explained away or glossed over by oily politicians, smarmy television talking heads and cool apologists for the status quo. 'Death of the Liberal Class' does a masterful job of documenting this gradual erosion of genuine American democracy.
No amount of massaging the propaganda line is going to be able to rectify the obvious discrepancy between what 80% of working class people experience every day and the media created fantasy world paraded across TV screens in dramas, sitcoms and mass media commercial culture. Something has got to give.
Hedges goes on to demonstrate that the American politico-economic system is clearly broken and it's now time for open revolt against the speculators and parasitic financial elite who have been waging relentless class warfare against middle class families for the last 30 years by plundering the treasury, hollowing out the economy, siphoning gobs of wealth into their portfolios, and attacking organized labor.
This is a crucial period in United States democracy and Hedges comes up with a treatise in `Death of the Liberal Class' that astutely explains all this. He expounds on the p.r. industry, the propaganda machines, and most importantly the apostasy of the liberal intellectuals over the last 100 years, all of which now have us staring over the abyss of a land devoid of any means or vocabulary to make sense of what's going on.
Hedges' take away is that we as citizens must agitate, demonstrate, boycott, and if necessary break laws that if followed through on by the parasitic elite would further our annihilation. `Death of the Liberal Class' provides a valuable outline of how we came to arrive at this incredible juncture and it proffers a view of the future that's truly frightening in its description of a garrison state lorded over by a ruling class cloistered off into gated communities and fantasy islands while 80% of the working masses fight amongst themselves for crumbs and scant resources.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2011
This is the longest of my reviews but it's certainly worthy of the attention. Although often times when I read nonfiction books of a similar caliber-that is, books I consider incredibly urgent and important; which include other Hedge's books and "The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism," where almost every passage makes me want to just DO SOMETHING- I often just state it is necessary for everyone to read it and leave it at that. This time, instead of some random guy saying it must be read, I'm going to take the more practical approach of trying to convince one to read this.
This book is of the stuff that keeps your blood boiling all throughout reading it. The past few days have been rife with anger. With every subject, Hedge's demonstrates his political acumen with rarely matched potency and emotes feelings of incredible urgency. He touches upon a vast amount of topics: religion, origins of corporate take-over (namely World War I's propaganda campaign against Germany. "'Sauerkraut became known as liberty cabbage... German clover appeared... as crimson or liberty clover...' Dachshunds were renamed liberty dogs." Sound familiar?), the internet, rebellion vs. revolution, the environment ("We face a terrible political truth. Those who hold power will not act with the urgency required to protect human life and the ecosystem."), hypermasculinity ("Hypermasculinity crushes the capacity for moral autonomy, difference, and diversity... militarized culture attacks all that is culturally defined as feminine, including love, gentleness, compassion, and acceptance of difference."), the 1960's counterculture (which "shared commercial culture's hedonism, love of spectacle, and preoccupation of self." Which helps explain it's abandonment of so-called rebellion when the war ended and the middle class, of which they were a part, stopped going off to war; few showed solidarity with working class struggle.), 2008's economic meltdown ("'Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities and when it's time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours?'"), art, and many, many more.
Early on, Hedge's opines that fear is what drives us to (perhaps/usually unconsciously) consent to ludicrous defense budgets, immense losses of individual liberty, inequitable power structures, &c., whilst speaking of the corporate strategy of permanent war. "The corporations that profit from permanent war need us to be afraid. Fear stops us from objecting to government spending on a bloated military. Fear means we will not ask unpleasant questions of those in power. Fear permits the government to operate in secret. Fear means we are willing to give up our rights and liberties for promises of security. The imposition of fear ensures that the corporations that wrecked the country cannot be challenged." Whether through fear or apathy "citizens, rather than authentically participating in power, have only virtual opinions... They are reduced to expressing themselves on issues that are meaningless, voting on American Idol or in polls conducted by the power elite." (see: "participatory fascism," "inverted totalitarianism").
Hedge's adequately assays how the liberal institutions (especially the major one: the Democratic Party) have betrayed and/or blackballed a number of freethinking liberals, mostly for challenging power, overstepping the boundaries that corporate power vis-à-vis the liberal class, have ascribed. The black list includes:
Noam Chomsky- "Chomsky's courage to speak on behalf of those whose suffering is minimized or ignored in mass culture, such as the Palestinians, is an example for anyone searching for models of the moral life. Perhaps, even more than his scholarship, his example of moral independence sustains all those who defy the cant of the crowd, and that of the liberal class, to speak the truth." Moral independence is a major no-no in the modern liberal class, which Hedge's goes through pains to elucidate.
Howard Zinn- "Zinn knew that if we do not listen to the stories of those without power, those who suffer discrimination and abuse, those who struggle for justice, we are left parroting the manufactured myths that serve the interests of the privileged. Zinn set out to write history, not myth. He found that challenging these myths, even as a historian, turned one into a pariah."
Ralph Nader- I'm sure many remember the rage expressed towards Nader after the 2000 election, all I can say is I came out of Nader's passage with the utmost respect for him. "I don't care about my personal legacy. I care about how much justice is advanced in America and in our world day after day. I'm willing to sacrifice whatever `reputation' in the cause of that effort. What is my legacy? Are they going to turn around and rip seat belts out of cars, air bags out of cars?" This quote was a perfect way to cap off Nader's impressive legacy (which may be only surpassed by his humility) that is mentioned in the few preceding pages.
There's also a fantastic section on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X who Hedge's claims would've become pariahs, had they not been assassinated, for espousing ideas of economic justice (among other things), since "'Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' was, as King and Malcolm knew, a meaningless slogan if there was no possibility of a decent education, a safe neighborhood, a job, or a living wage." Further, today "they would have denounced liberals who mouth platitudes about justice while supporting a party that slavishly serves the moneyed elite."
Michael Moore, Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul are also covered, though the latter two with a bit more brevity.
The liberal class has its hands in ostracizing all these independent thinkers, and they aren't ostracized solely by conservatives, but by everyone who bows to corporate power- those who make decisions for personal gain, to further their careers- rather than do what is right. It's America's pathetic liberal class, that left itself powerless and thus useless through collaborating with the corporate elite. "The failure of the liberal class to adjust to the harsh, new reality of corporate power and the permanent war economy, to acknowledge it's own powerlessness, has left the liberal class isolated and despised."
I think the thing most telling of liberal weakness is in what can be and is often accepted as defining an American "patriot," whose modern definition is filled with illiberal and even undemocratic beliefs. "The `patriotic' citizen, although abused by the actual policies of the state, unfailingly supports widespread surveillance and permanent war. The `patriotic' citizen does not question the $1 trillion in defense-related spending. The `patriotic' citizen accepts that the eighteen military and civilian intelligence agencies, most of whose work is now outsourced to private corporations, are held above the government. The `patriotic' citizen accepts the state's assertion that it needs more police, prisons, inmates, spies, mercenaries, weapons, and troops than any other industrialized nation. The `patriotic' citizen objects when anyone suggests that military budgets can be cut, that troops need to come home, that domestic policies need more attention than the pursuit of permanent war.... In the name of patriotism, the most powerful instruments of state power and control are effectively removed from public discussion." Patriotism couldn't plausibly be defined in such a way if the liberal class actually had a spine. "We endure more state control than at any time in U.S. history. And the liberal class, whose task was once to monitor and protest the excesses of the power elite, has assisted in the rout." If all this isn't clear in this review, you can count on Hedge's masterful articulation to clarify everything.
"'There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop.'" This is very nearly how I feel two hours after reading this book, and hopefully it's how everyone will feel after reading it. Death of the Liberal Class may be the most important book in our lifetimes.